Clarkson officials hoped to avoid replacing pricey batteries in each sensor, so they used energy created by passing traffic to maintain the electrical charge. The sensors monitor traffic patterns and the strength of a bridge located on New York State Route 11.

Keeping an electronic eye on bridges could warn authorities before aging structures become unsteady and dangerous.

Thirteen people died and more than 140 were injured when a Minneapolis bridge built over the Mississippi River collapsed during rush hour on Aug. 1, 2007. Officials said design flaws caused the 40-year-old structure to give way.

About 25 percent of America’s nearly 600,000 bridges are classified as deficient or “functionally obsolete,” according to Federal Highway Administration statistics.

Dowgala said the long-term impact of sunlight is a factor students can’t study in an hour-long lecture or from a textbook excerpt. If the sun shines on one side of the bridge, he said, that side will expand over time.

“It’s not going to make it fail, but it is an interesting aspect,” Dowgala said.

Moon said Drexel University faculty members are working with local officials in charge of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge to make the streaming sensor information available to any student with a laptop. The information feed is currently available through the engineering program.

The real-time feed would be password-protected, Moon said, so that only students and professors could access the constantly-changing readout.

“If this is going to be successful, students are going to have to have direct access,” he said.


Drexel University College of Engineering

Clarkson University

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